Chess in a Filipino park, chess as a therapy for tough times and as a source for marketing and for cartoons. There are interesting new facts about female participation, and the female GM Harika Dronavalli shares her journey. And have you seen the new thing in chess streams: eye-tracking?

Enjoy this new episode of In Other News.

Chess in the Park

The Philippines breathes chess history, thanks to its legendary grandmaster Eugenio Torre and the famous 1978 Karpov-Korchnoi world championship in Baguio City. It is also the native country of the top U.S. grandmaster Wesley So, who could still be found playing chess in Manila’s Rizal Park in 2012.

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The South China Morning Post has a story about a special chess corner in that park, dubbed Chess Plaza, where another “legend” can be found playing every day: the 62-year-old Johnny Siong—alongside other players and 17 cats. The story reminds us that even in these modern times, our game is still often being played out in the open, and sometimes for a bit of money (“or just coffee!”—Siong) as well.

The Black and White Jungle

Besides a fun, hustling, money-making vehicle for players in the park, chess can be an escape as well—a getaway from the worries of the everyday life, or “my ineffable worries, mom’s inexplicable tears, the fragile stillness of our quiet apartment,” as Ethan Li writes in a lovely little essay that’s a finalist in NextShark’s personal essay contest for 2019.

Ethan Li
Ethan Li.

Li, a first-year student at Princeton University, describes how chess got him through his parents’ divorce, a difficult time that started with his father suddenly returning to China without explanation.

“Chess became an elaborate escape for me,” he said. “During sleepless nights, I readily replaced opaque stares at the apartment ceiling with enchanting chess puzzles lit by a gentle desk light.”

You can read his essay here.

Grandmaster Marketing

We’ve had Viktor Korchnoi losing to a cow, Garry Kasparov losing to a kid, Viswanathan Anand not being recognized and failing at cricket and Magnus Carlsen fighting demons and playing himself, the latter while promoting a Porsche car.

There’s a much bigger list that can be built of commercials where chess plays a role, and one can now be added.

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This time, the Italian grandmaster Daniele Vocaturo features in an ad that promotes the new Lamborghini LDVI: “Analyze to predict. Our new LDVI can anticipate the driver’s wishes just like Daniele Vocaturo, chess grandmaster and number-one ranked Italian player, does with his opponents’ moves.”

Chess Cartoons

Chess is connected to just about any part of our culture, such as art, literature, advertisement (as mentioned above) and also cartoons. We’ve had our own cartoonist for a while, but this is about someone else: Tony Sullivan, a professional cartoonist who is publishing a book of chess cartoons next month titled Chess Peace.

Sullivan says he “brings the chess pieces to life and brings the viewer on a journey following the hilarious adventures of the chess pieces, both on and off the chessboard.”

Tony Sullivan Just a Game Chess Peace“Back in the early 2000s I was doing a series of cartoons called The Bottom Line and I did a few chess cartoons,” said Sullivan. I was surprised at how popular they became. In the last year, I decided to publish a book of chess cartoons, originally called Chess Piece, and changed the name to Chess Peace. The reason for the name change is that I liked the notion of solving the troubles of the world by unifying the people worldwide through chess and humor. Although chess is a game of war, many of my cartoons are based off the chessboard when the pieces themselves are not in a state of war,” he said.

Tony Sullivan Tennis Club Chess Peace

Sullivan: “The chess pieces lend well to humor in that you have a queen who’s the most powerful piece in a male-dominated society. The king is rather a nervous fellow after being chased around the chessboard for almost a thousand years and the pawns are disgruntled at being just pawns. This mix of characters makes for a huge opportunity for humor.”

You can find more about Sullivan’s cartoons here on Facebook.

The Best (and Worst) Countries to be a Female Chess Player

In a recent post on his personal website, the Australian grandmaster David Smerdon, now a lecturer at the University of Queensland, starts with a quiz. 

Try to guess which of these countries have the highest percentage of female chess players: Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA, Vietnam.

David Smerdon Female Participation Gender Equality
A graphic on female participation and gender equality—find a bigger version here.

We all know that female participation in chess is much smaller than male participation, but female participation also differs across the world—and not in the way you might expect it. It would seem obvious to arrange the countries from the quiz above in roughly the same order as the level of gender equality in each country, but as Smerdon points out, this is not the case at all. His interesting findings can be viewed here.

Harika’s TEDx Talk

There’s more on the female participation theme as we’re mentioning the recent TEDx talk by the Indian grandmaster Harika Dronavalli. Her introduction sets the tone of what her journey has been:

When I was born, my whole family cried because they were hoping and praying for a boy. It wasn’t a case of discrimination, but my grandparents wanted a boy who could tale my family name ahead in generations. But I shattered all their hopes by coming into this world. After some years, the same people, family, relatives and everyone I knew, told me that no one could have ever made my family name as popular as I did, and that they are proud of me.

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The TEDx talk was delivered at BITS Pilani in January 2019. Dronavalli “explains how persistence and hard work made her come closer to her dream not once, but thrice. Her inspirational journey teaches us to keep pushing our boundaries and to learn from our mistakes,” as the YouTube introduction writes.

Eye-Tracking, the New Thing?

During the PRO Chess League finals on May 4-5, the Chess.com Twitch coverage of the event introduced eye-tracking. Areas on the board where players were looking were highlighted in real-time, which gave the commentators some extra clues as to what the players were thinking about.

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Check out the eye-tracking starting from 02:42:24.

I could hear gasps in the audience the first time we showed them our scenes that included eye tracking,” said Aran Graham, esports producer for Chess.com. He was interviewed for the website of Tobii Eye Tracking, which was used for the PRO Chess League. Chess.com plans to do more with this new technology, and you can read more about it here.

https://www.chess.com/news/view/in-other-news-park-chess-female-chess-cartoons-commercials